Let this be a lesson to all major tech companies: if you have a ton of users and you want to enter a new market, you'd better charge some kind of arbitrary fee, lest you end up in trouble with the French judicial system. Google is feeling that sting this week, as a French court ordered the company to pay €500,000 in damages to Maps competitor Bottin Cartographs as well as a €15,000 fine.
The plaintiff claimed that Google was using its market dominance to muscle out smaller competitors in the mapping software market. Here's what Bottin Cartographs' lawyer, Jean-David Scemmama, had to say on the ruling:
"We proved the illegality of (Google's) strategy to remove its competitors... the court recognised the unfair and abusive character of the methods used and allocated Bottin Cartographes all it claimed. This is the first time Google has been convicted for its Google Maps application."
Google, predictably, disagrees with the decision:
"We will appeal this decision. We remain convinced that a free high-quality mapping tool is beneficial for both Internet users and websites. There remains competition in this sector for us, both in France and internationally."
It's up to the French courts to decide how Google's allowed to operate in their country, obviously, but it's worth noting that both sides have an understandable point. On one hand, when Google enters a market, millions of users will end up using the service by default, and industries are affected. Remember when TomTom's and Garmin's stock prices plummeted the day turn-by-turn navigation was introduced in Android 2.0? So do we.
On the other hand, the trend towards major software companies covering all the major bases isn't going away. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all expanding their software offerings to become your one-stop shops. Microsoft is building out Bing services at a loss, Apple spent billions on giant data centers to create iCloud, and Google is no stranger to buying up companies to build new services. Large companies simply have resources to invest in innovation that smaller startups can't afford.
It's hard to deny that Google Maps has pushed innovation forward and lit a fire under competitors' feet. What do you think, though? Is it fair for Google to provide services for free that other competitors have to charge for? Or are smaller companies doomed if they have to compete with free?